I pierced my belly button when I was 19, and what I remember most acutely about the experience is the absolutely appalling way that people would come up to me and put one of their fingers in the ring. Women in bathrooms were the worst. I lived in Hawaii then and rarely wore a full-length shirt so it was just right there. My belly ring. The way my pregnancy would be later. And people responded in a similar way.
“Oh!” Random girl beside me. “Did it hurt?” Reaches out and grabs ring.
Are you fucking kidding me? Who said you could touch me?
And this is how I understand predation. Whether or not you have a sexual angle, you are not allowed to touch me without my consent. Not my belly. Not my face. You are not allowed to come up behind me and grind. Not on the dance floor, not waiting in line. Your objective in this scenario — in ANY scenario — is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether or not you have my consent. And if you don’t, back the fuck up.
This is the clearest example I have in my head about boundaries. You do not get to touch me without my permission. I will never ask my son to hug someone or kiss them. I will never have him sit on anyone’s lap. (Santa? How is it we have made an entire celebration out of sitting on a random stranger’s lap?) His body is his own. And he can decide for himself if he’s willing to be affectionate with another person.
Concerning men, this has been clear to me for a long time. With women, it has been much harder to set firm boundaries. Partly because being with women in any degree of intimacy was a radical act according to the “values” of my parents and their church. So if any connection is wrong, how can you tell what is healthy and what isn’t? Which part of your relationship shouldn’t be obsessive?
And then, once I have made a decision about what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable, do I have any right to change the rules? After agonizing discussions, can I then say, “You know what, I’m just not OK with this.”
Yes, I fucking can. I get to say what my terms are. And I get to change them whenever I want to. I can stop you in the middle. I can stop you before you’re through the doorway. I can stop you years from now. You need my consent to have a relationship with me, and you need my consent at every level of intimacy.
I didn’t always know that. And once I learned it, it was hard to employ consistently without feeling like a dick. I belong to myself. That is all. I am my own. You’re just visiting, and you have to be invited. This isn’t just the way I finally learned to date, it’s also the way I finally learned to love.